Almost every man or boy has fantasised at some stage in his life about owning a motorbike. There is little that can beat the romantic image of cruising on the back of a lean machine with no particular place to go. But the human cost of this country's obsession with motorbikes is steadily rising.

Motorcyclists are being warned by police and motorcycling organisations to pay extra care on the roads this summer, especially in the wake of fatal accidents which have taken place in the region.

Ian Millward, owner of Zoom Motorcycles in Kidlington Thames Valley Police figures show the number of accidents involving motorcyclists on Oxfordshire's roads is rising, particularly those involving deaths or serious injuries.

In 1999 there were 251 accidents, with 93 of them fatal or serious. Last year, that figure rose to 272, with 97 of them fatal or serious. And statistics show that the number of serious accidents in Oxfordshire is considerably higher than the average across the Thames Valley region.

Motorcyclists are being called on to consider taking advanced training courses to help drive down the accident rate and improve their safety techniques. The advice comes in the wake of the death of another motorcyclist who died on Sunday after a collision with a VW Passat on the B480 at Chislehampton, near Thame.

The motorcyclist, who has yet to be named, was the latest victim of a spate of motorbike accidents. In the past month there have been crashes at Minster Lovell, near Witney, West Hagbourne Hill, near Didcot, and in north Oxfordshire between Chipping Warden and Wardington.

Pc Phil Curtis, one of Thames Valley Police's three bike instructors, says one reason for the rise in the number of motorcycle accidents is the increase in bikers on the road.

But he says many accidents are caused by motorcyclists and drivers not looking far enough ahead when on the roads.

"What they need to do is look ahead so they know what will happen next. We advise motorcyclists to think about what is the worst thing that could happen and then plan for that."

Pc Curtis also says many motorcyclists do not fully understand their machines and how best to handle them.

"I would like to see people taking time to learn what their motorbikes are capable of and then developing the skills to make the most of them. In many cases it's the technique that's lacking.

"You can enjoy the bike without going bananas," he says.

Police want to see bikers complete a track day - where riders can push their bikes to the limit on a racing circuit - to learn how to make the most of their machines, as well as an advanced training course to improve road riding skills and techniques.

"If you are going to ride a motorbike the chances are you will have an accident. When it's fatal it's tragic for the people left behind. We want to see people appreciating what their bikes are capable of and respecting that."

May and June mark the traditional time when many 'born-again bikers' take to the road. They are motorcyclists who have not ridden for several years but who decide to get back on a bike during the summer.

Last year Thames Valley Police backed a national campaign, Bike Safe 2000, to improve the safety of born-again bikers on our roads.

Owner of Kidlington-based motorbike shop Zoom Motorcycles Ian Millward, 31, who has been riding a motorbike for nearly 15 years, says: "The stereotype image of a born-again biker is a 40-something guy who was last on a bike 20 years ago.

He adds: "They don't realise the power of today's machines and the speed which they can go.

"They may have a licence but they need training courses to help them get used to today's motorbikes which are so different to the heavy machines they probably learnt on.

"I have ridden 250,000 miles on a bike and I have had four accidents in that time - none of them have been serious. When you have an accident everything goes into slow motion and then your body automatically tries to protect itself.

"As far as safety goes you have got to be aware at all times and always be looking way ahead of yourself. Then you have to make snap decisions and use the power and strength of the bike, combined with confidence, to carry those decisions out."

Ian added he would like to see Oxford City Council follow in the tracks of Bristol City Council which recently organised a pilot scheme allowing bikers to ride in bus lanes. He says: "It would make perfect sense. We wouldn't hold up the buses and it would improve safety for bikers greatly."